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'Drop the charges' demands the IFJ as six US journalists charged with rioting

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Posted by IFJ/NUJ news releases

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) has called for felony charges against six US journalists arrested while covering protests against new President Donald Trump to be dropped. They are facing up to 10 years each in prison after being arrested covering unrest around Donald Trump´s inauguration on 20 January in Washington.Journalists Evan Engel (Vocativ), Alex Rubinstein (Russia Today America), documentary producer Jack Keller, live-streaming Matt Hopard, photojournalist Shay Horse and freelancer Aaron Cantú were arraigned on 21 January and charged with the most serious level of offense under Washington DC´s law against rioting, media reported. They await further hearings in February and March and face up to 10 years in prison as well as a $25,000 fine, if convicted.

The journalists were detained on the morning of 20 January at 12th and L streets in the US capital during the hours around Trump´s swearing-in as president, despite telling officers that they were covering the demonstrations as journalists and showing them media credentials. Engel´s camera was also seized by the police.

In all, more than 200 people were arrested following damage to property and vandalism. Reports on the journalists’ arrests alleged that ¨numerous crimes were occurring in the police’s presence¨, including breaking windows, lighting fires and damaging vehicles, but none of them makes any specific allegations about what any of the reporters are supposed to have done wrong, media added. The journalists denied wrongdoing and acting as vandals.

The IFJ, that had already warned President Trump against threats to press freedom, is highly concerned about these flagrant media violations and urged the authorities to immediately drop the charges they face. ¨We strongly condemn these unfair arrests of our US colleagues who were observing and documenting the atmosphere following Trump´s inauguration,¨ said IFJ President, Philippe Leruth. ¨The charges against them are a clear violation of the US First Amendment as well as a botched attempt to muzzle the independent voices and prevent media watchdogs from accomplishing their mission of reporting, which seems ironic for a country that used to brag of taking a leading role in promoting freedom. We demand the charges are immediately dropped.¨

The National Lawyers’ Guild accused Washington DC’s metropolitan police department of indiscriminately targeting people based only on location and of unlawfully using teargas and other weapons against the demonstrators.  

NUJ general secretary Michelle Stanistreet has,called on union members and media workers to tweet Donald Trump to condemn the arrests and express solidarity with colleagues. She said: “Journalism is not a crime. Journalists, including NUJ members, were on the ground on the day doing their job -  documenting the wide-range of events and protests linked to the inauguration. Arresting journalists is a disturbing move at the beginning of a new administration already mired in controversy, and we are calling on the authorities to drop the charges immediately."   

DATELINE: 25 January, 2017


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